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Dragons in D&D 4e used to be weak, and were easy for my party to defeat. Solos were rarely much of a challenge, or so it was before Monsters Vault showed up with the new/updated Dragons. They are now finally strong, powerful, fearsome solo monsters.

I'm DMing a campaign in the Forgotten Realms setting and I want to use Dragons. The thing is, to make Dragons powerful and scary, when I use them I actually try to kill my players' characters and don't hold back. I attack them from an open sky, grab someone and fly high only to drop a player and cause tons of damage, burn the forest they were trying to cross and stuff like that.

Yesterday my friends wanted to play a Paragon level one-shot. They were all level 18 characters and the final battle was against a black dragon plus 4 soldier monster, all level 18. In the end, I killed them all. They still had fun. They all went home saying: "Wow, Dragons really are powerful again" and things like that, but it all made me worried.

Obviously, I cannot use Dragons the same way I used to because, now that Dragons are strong, I will end up by killing everybody easily. So, how can I have the characters fight a Dragon in a way that will still make the fight dangerous and hard, but which will give the players a fair chance of success? White Dragons like to fight with their claws and fight to the death but what about the rest?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can keep using the old, pre-update Dragons if they worked better. This post seems to be missing the problem with your old approach (from the description, it seemed to be working fine), which makes it hard to understand what it is you expect to get from a Dragon. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Dec 22 '14 at 9:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem is, even the players would think Dragons were weak before the updates. Now they are strong but if combined with smart moves (like grabbing someone and then flying away) they are way too strong. The new ones are also way more interesting in term of mechanics but I wanna use them as a hard boss fight not as a way of killing my entire group. \$\endgroup\$ – Davi Braid Dec 22 '14 at 9:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Having just felt a party wipe at the hands of a new dragon, I know both your worry and the thrill of your players. I think Eric has the main point down, you can under-power the dragon; or you can literally take your PCs to school and teach them the art of dragon hunting. Anyone with a sword can smash a drake and cleanse an undead infestation, but to be a dragon hunter takes special cunning, guile, and the proper application of the right skills. That's worked for me, and the DM that just wiped us is considering an actual "school" element to help deliver artifacts to help against the next one \$\endgroup\$ – Ruscal Mar 9 '17 at 23:38
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If you like the new Dragons, but also like the old nasty fighting styles of Dragons, then I see two basic ways to make these things work together.

The mechanical fix

This is a fairly simple way to fix the problem, but it might not be what you are looking for because it does ultimately power dragons down. You could use the new mechanics, but use a lower level Dragon than you normally would. Instead of an 18th level Dragon played as a nasty monster against an 18th level party, pick a 16th level Dragon. The slightly lower chances to hit and easier time getting hit will compensate for the Dragon's nastier combat tactics and result in a mechanically interesting battle with a cunning opponent.

However, I think what you're really looking for is:

The psychological fix

Your players have been trained by the game to expect Dragons that are cunning, but mechanically weak. They have themselves probably grown to expect that they can deal with Dragons just fine, even though they fight nasty.

Explain to them that this is no longer the case. The next time they go up against a Dragon, make sure they bring their A-game. Give them chances to learn about the Dragon, its tactics, its personality, its guardians, and give them time to prepare for the hardest battle of their carreers.

Many devious tactics have counters (feather-falling vs grab-and-drop, knocking out of the sky vs staying out of range, energy resistance vs breathweapon abuse, etc) Make sure your players get the chance to learn of these tactics, and have time to obtain these counts. (Consumables, magic items, good power selection, maybe even retraining or plot items, depending on how important the battle is)

If they enter the battle well prepared and with a different mindset, they can probably handle it. After all; the new Dragons are mechanically balanced to be on par with adventurers of the same level. Your players are losing because your tactics are better than theirs. If you tell them this (in a way that it doesn't sound condescending, obviously) they will be better prepared for the next fight and at the very least it'll be much more exciting and memorable.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you give me a geographical solution? \$\endgroup\$ – Davi Braid Dec 22 '14 at 12:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you mean a geographical solution? Like a type of location where you can't use the Dragon to its full strength? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Dec 22 '14 at 13:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Exactly, but in a way they could still be dangerous. I know Red Dragons like to hide under mountains. But it feels stupid and unfair to the Dragon (since it won't fly at all in a cave but if it's part of the lore, I can't help it). I'd love some sugestions. \$\endgroup\$ – Davi Braid Dec 22 '14 at 13:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel that giving specific locations for all sorts of encounters is a bit outside the scope of the original question. It would depend heavily on (for example) the type of dragon, the players' level and the story it takes place in. In that case I would suggest asking another question with more detail on the kind of encounter you're looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Dec 22 '14 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think a new question would be redundant. You could just add: "The Geographical Fix" to your post. \$\endgroup\$ – Davi Braid Dec 22 '14 at 22:16

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